RSF urges Thai junta to drop charges against website reporter

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the Thai authorities to withdraw all charges against Taweesak Kerdpoka, a reporter for the independent news website Prachatai, who was arrested yesterday while covering the activities of members of the opposition New Democracy Movement (NDM) and was released on bail today.

Taweesak and the three NDM activists he was accompanying were arrested yesterday morning in the central district of Ban Pong and were questioned about NDM-published booklets found in their vehicle that criticize the Thai junta’s proposed constitution.

The booklets and “Vote No” stickers were to have been distributed ahead of the referendum on the proposed constitution that will be held on 7 August.

Prachatai said Taweesak was accompanying the three activists to Ban Pong police station after a total of 18 activists were summoned to report to the police for allegedly organizing illegal political meetings. Taweesak and the three NDM activists were freed today on bail of 140,000 baht (3,600 euros).

It is unacceptable that local officials, acting under the junta’s authority, fail to distinguish between political activists and a journalist who is covering their activities,” said Benjamin Ismaïl, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.

As if violating the fundamental freedoms of assembly and opinion were not enough, the authorities are compounding their crimes by also violating freedom of information and media freedom. What will come next? Arresting the journalists who cover these arbitrary arrests? The government must tolerate the media reporting of the critical views of opposition.

Taweesak and the three activists are charged with violating Article 61(2) of the Referendum Act, which prohibits publishing or broadcasting “false,” “vulgar,” “inciteful” or “intimidating” information about the constitutional referendum.

If convicted, they face a possible 10-year jail sentence, a fine of up to 200,000 baht, and suspension of their electoral rights for five years.

Ranked 136th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index, Thailand has seen drastic curbs placed on media freedom since the military staged a coup in May 2014.

RSF issued a report on the situation in Thailand in November 2015. Entitled “Media hounded by junta since 2014 coup,” it urges the Thai authorities to stop using draconian media legislation in order to gag critical and independent media, censor the Internet and spy on bloggers and anyone posting “critical” information on social networks.

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Updated on 11.07.2016